Responding to Climate Change by Speeding Job Creation

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From Bloomberg, we learn how China is pushing an ambitious domestic clean economy agenda, planning large scale projects that will keep their citizens employed and civil unrest at bay.

A 20 gigawatt wind farm that will be the world's largest is scheduled for completion by 2020 and, as the Bloomberg article also notes, the country will also be building the world's largest solar installation and embarking on an enormous reforestation project. (They've either been paying attention to the latest research indicating that forests can attract their own rain, or they're just sick to the teeth of the dust storms. Either way, they're being proactive.) For a country that doesn't want to be tied to binding international targets, China's still doing a good job of jumping into the climate problem with both feet.

How could we get there?

First, we obviously have very different economic and social considerations. China has high labor flexibility because they're bringing a lot of people up from nothing and they've made a point of creating jobs for their majority of unskilled and semi-skilled workers, so they've developed a track record of delivering on employment promises. The US job market experience over the past three decades has largely been one of trading downwards in both job quality and availability, leaving an electorate that's sensibly distrustful of the elite's willingness to secure new opportunities for them. Being at different points in our cultural dialogue, the exact same solutions aren't going to work in both countries.

But what about the New Deal, or the Danish model? At the previous link, Meteor Blades of Daily Kos discusses the need for new approaches at the president's upcoming jobs summit and quotes Robert Kuttner, from his book, Obama's Challenges:

On the one hand, the Danes are passionate free traders. They score well in the ratings constructed by pro-market organizations. The World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index ranks Denmark third, just behind the United States and Switzerland, and even the far-right Heritage Foundation ranks Denmark eleventh, giving it demerits only for the size of its public sector. Denmark’s financial markets are clean and transparent, its barrier to imports minimal, its labor markets the most flexible in Europe, its multinational corporations dynamic and largely unmolested by industry policies, and its unemployment rate of 2.8 percent, the lowest in the OECD. [Now 4.1%, and the lowest in the OECD – MB.]

On the other hand, Denmark spends about 50 percent of its GDP socially and has the world’s second-highest tax rate after Sweden, as well as strong trade unions and one of the world’s most equal income distributions. For the half of the GDP that they pay in taxes, the Danes get not just universal health insurance but also generous child-care and family-leave arrangements, unemployment compensation that typically covers around 95 percent of lost wages, free higher education, secure pensions in old age, and the world’s most creative system of worker retraining.

What makes the flexicurity model both attractive to workers and dynamic for society are six key features: full employment; strong unions recognized as social partners; fairly equal wages among different sectors, so that a shift from manufacturing to service-sector work does not typically entail a pay cut; employer freedom to hire and fire as necessary; a comprehensive income floor; and a set of labor-market programs that spend an astonishing 4.5 percent of Danish GDP on programs such as transitional unemployment assistance, wage subsidies, and highly customized retraining. In return for such spending, the unions actively support both employer flexibility and a set of tough rules to weed out welfare chiselers; workers are understood to have duties as well as rights.

Danish workers don't have to be afraid of losing their jobs, or switching jobs, or of being abused by their employers. Denmark clearly has the labor market flexibility and high employment that the Chinese prioritize, but without any of that unpleasant social unrest. Everybody gets what they want, nobody gets left behind.

Why won't we do that? More, why won't we do that so our industrial sector can fearlessly retool to profit from the biggest challenge our species faces?

Climate change is now responsible for so many natural disasters that it's already a major humanitarian crisis. Coastal cities may be washed away, flooding and shifting rainfall threatens food security, and melting ice is already causing water shortages that are projected to get worse.

Solving each of these problems is a job opportunity for millions of people. Indeed, because of the persistent truth that it takes more effort to fix a problem than to avoid it, humans have created an enormous amount of work for ourselves.

All the reasons to move fast on transitioning to an efficient, clean, renewable energy economy are good ones. There's no labor shortage preventing the work from getting underway at once. Most of our international competitors are doing it and making loads of money at it. So again, what's the hold up?

Update: And if we needed one more reason to act urgently to create these new industries, Nouriel Roubini, one of the economists exiled to the hinterlands of polite opinion for the crime of being right, says that under business as usual, the jobs aren't coming back for years. That's a major problem for political incumbents anywhere in the world.

I'm no brilliant, 11th dimensional chess player, but it seems to me that unless Democrats want to fall prey to a 'throw the bums out' sentiment in the next election, they'd better get moving on job creation with a powerful quickness.



Taylor, T. (2009). Responding to Climate Change by Speeding Job Creation. Retrieved from


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